Blade Runner 2049 and Gender/Queer/Racial Perspective


#1

Seeing Blade Runner 2049 over the weekend, its pacing, themes, and aesthetic quickly put it among my favorite films of the last few years. Seeing a ton of the discussion around it centered on the lack of diversity in its choices of representation, I’m intensely curious to see what people here may have thought. My initial read of the film was that, as a piece of dystopian fiction, these were intentional choices. Intentional in that it felt to me as if it were carefully cultivating a deep discomfort with its social structures/politics in order to highlight 2017’s society’s massive failures in these regards. On the other hand, its a product of 2017 culture, and I don’t think it’d be too much of a stretch, given how mass-audience unfriendly it feels in a handful of ways, that they cynically went with only the safest representations, and thus it reinforces the structures that I see it as questioning. I’m genuinely not sure how to feel about it. The fight for expanding and improving mainstream representation of identities beyond straight white men should never be minimized or disregarded, but in my mind, the entire movie centered around systematic dehumanization, and goes a lot farther to addressing these issues from a philosophical perspective than most movies even attempt. What do you think? Does its failure to address specific issues in modern cultural representation undermine its big-picture examination of those topics? Is it a symptom of systemic representation problems, or is it actually addressing these problems in a slightly more obfuscated fashion? In 2017, when not taking a stance can no longer be considered neutral, is leaving all of this ambiguous and open to debate on a certain level irresponsible, or is the fact that it’s generating thought and discussion on these topics (and therefore raising visibility just slightly more) actually more productive than clearly stating a definitive viewpoint?


We Talk 'Blade Runner 2049,' Identity, and Choice on the New Waypoint 101 [Spoilers Abound]
#2

I think it’s a brilliant film that also has big problems with representation, and seeing cheap dunks on it as “not a feminist film” makes me despair

it’s trying to grapple with some really big ideas about the nature of self and identity and humanity and possibly even the nature of hope and it does so quite well, and i keep thinking of new things about it that I think are interesting so seeing people dunk on it for cheap points on twitter is just like ugh The Discourse y’all

not every movie has to address every issue, imo. blade runner 2049 addresses a lot


#3

And, to be fair, is still considerably austere.


#5

i would really really love to see some interesting play in that world re: gender (questions about why replicants are so binary, why do we choose to give them rigid gender boundaries, do they have sexualities, are the sexualities programmed or “natural” or developed [seeing as some of them can reproduce seemingly without their creators knowing?]) but i am not sure those questions would be adequately or interestingly answered in a big screen major film, but it would have been interesting to see those questions be hinted at cause i think the world created there could be so so so interesting for those questions

to steal from friends at the table “we could have made them look like anything but we made them look like us” BUT WHY, basically, and which “us” gets to “make” them and what “us”'s are omitted from the process of creation and why


#6

im coming to this as someone who hasnt seen the film yet so i am prepared to eat crow but i kind of reject OPs idea that a story can be About inequality without even featuring those characters (also like, maybe this is just a specific history i have but i am kind of fucking ‘yikes’ at the use of the words identity politics here and w talking about ‘beating over the head’ w a political statement)?

like at best if a narrative is about inequality but features nobody of a disprivileged group it’s only going to be as a balm to the majority, like, “aren’t we good for deigning to do this thing”, like who is it For if its abt a group but not actually showing them

im being sort of vague and theoretical here i guess bc im reacting more to OP than the film itself i guess, idk

also like films produced under capitalism cannot Be Feminist any more than mastercard can be your friend. u can do a feminist reading fine but like What Is It Doing Materially, For Women, As A Class not just for individuals


#7

The more I think about this movie the less I like it. The most positive thing I can say about its rhetoric is how it evokes a powerful emotion on the political effects of fertility.
I appreciated the scale and colors and such, but I think it is worth asking oneself what this movie looks like to an ethnonationalist or fascist or misogynist. Everything (including the visuals) is about monetary, patriarchal, technological and violent power. I’m not well schooled on Futurism, but I think it might be a movie a Futurist would make in 2017.
There was only one character who was anything more than her societal role and she was in the movie briefly. All the other characters appear as pawns of the actual hero of the film, the cruel distopia itself. Some of the minor characters (including K) have the shallowest idea of faith and hope, but ultimately they are just vehicles to show how the distopia exerts its power. I can see an argument that the point of the movie is to show how this technology nightmare rips everyone out of their sense of interconnect humanity and uses them all as individual tools, but the resulting lack of acceptance of human dependencies on one another takes what I find interesting about narratives Out Of The Narrative. It’s a tech-demo of cool ideas and premises with no actual humans living in it (with the exception of Stelline). This is the dehumanization that bothers me in the film and even though it is made to look unpleasant, I think the overall rhetoric is a glorification of the rhetoric that makes it possible; people are no more than their professions and political affiliations and human agency is no more than a reaction to where one is placed in an institution of power. I think there is some truth to that but when it is presented so absolutely and cooly, I don’t like it. With the exception of the visual aesthetics, the only things I find interesting about this film is my reactions against it.


#8

yeah this definitely stands for it, there’s some stuff im uncomfy with about misogyny (in so far as… it exists and is presented) but none of the female characters actually ever address it as such which feels, imo, bad. at that point you’re presenting misogyny and then not allowing any female agency to acknowledge or challenge that, your main characters are men who engage in various levels of it, although its definitely presented, its never properly addressed


#9

Massive spoilers throughout this post so don’t read it if you haven’t seen it.

This movie is amazing in so many ways, I love it. It has a lot to say about a lot of different things, but really does flub it via its cast representation. The cast is actually fantastic, but its minority actors all got screwed over with really small/important roles. Like I wouldn’t even change the cast itself.

It really sucks because you have a movie where the main plotline is about the white male protagonist learning that he’s not special, and sacrificing himself so that this diverse group of people can step forward and have a better life. And when Deckard pops up and talks a bit about the birth of the resistance groups and stuff, he even says outright that once that began his job was to step aside, and it’s easy to see that as a parallel to K’s own story. But it’s hard not to see that as anything but “performative wokeness” when the movie hits the brick wall of putting Hiam Abbas and Lennie James in it in roles that ostensibly have a lot to say about the setting and story, but only for like one minute.

I don’t go into every movie expecting it to cover every base perfectly, but this felt like a really obvious omission to me, and one that happened out of laziness regarding the aesthetic’s roots in 70s/early 80s European comics, Heavy Metal Magazine, etc.

You have a look where the future is “diverse” on paper but is to me failing to escape the fetishized exoticism of non-white people seen in many of those comics. The way there was that almost on schedule the movie shows us a sign that has non-English text on it just to say “Hey look how weird this place is” but not really doing any world-building (or character building) beyond that. Robin Wright’s character has a Nepalese surname, Jared Leto gets to wear a kimono, the future here feels more “colonized” than it does in the original movie just from its placement of extras and its character designs. The original’s look was born out of Japan bashing, but even despite some music tracks like Damask Rose it never gave me the same feeling as 2049 does about this.

Everything else about the movie is, to me, incredible, and I feel like it actually surpasses the original in some ways (though the original remains my favorite movie ever) but this was the one thing that stood out to me as poorly handled.

I don’t know, like is this the price to get the budget for a slow burn borderline art film like this?

Something really awesome about this movie is its cynical (and correct) commentary on capitalism and commodification of the female body. Jared Leto’s Wallace resides in womb room with a literal replicant birth canal in it. And like Tyrell in the first movie is basically God as far as the setting goes. He’s aided in colonizing our solar system but wants more. And even in wanting more, even in having such grand plans for humanity, even being as advanced a person as we assume he must be because of his position and vast wealth, he’s still just another white dude that only sees women as the life support system for their ability to reproduce. He’s also literally, character design-wise a guy surrounded with the most advanced technology in human history that has no vision. This white male wannabe God character is a nice brazen stand-in for the Elon Musks of the world (Leto has said he based the performance some folks in that world he’s met personally) but also for regressive policy and government regarding women’s bodies, and I think the movie is pretty brave for being so open about that for a big budget intended to be mainstream release.

His endgame is seen in K, a company run by an insanely rich white man that bio-engineers powerful white men to serve as customers for women like JOI or Luv who arguably can not even think for themselves.

That brings us to JOI, JOI was one of the most effective things in the movie and it’s been interesting to see how arguments about her nature have become this movie’s “Is Deckard a replicant?” Whelp, much like that question the point isn’t the argument but that she may as well be real to K and therefore she’s real. He’s devastated when he sees that ad and it really hits him how much of her conversation was pre-made, but it also makes us see how far JOI has come from the demo in that ad. In her first scene she’s like a by the numbers chatbot. She starts talking about a book to him, K begins to say he’s not too interested in reading at the moment and she cuts him off with a sudden “OH I DON’T FEEL LIKE READING RIGHT NOW ANYWAY!” She starts out like you’d expect this sort of program to by just being a compliant reflection of whatever its user is talking about. K ends up being a hero because of how much he felt JOI really believed in him, that’s awesome.

Luv is almost more interesting though. You know how K gets that calibration test done on him every 48 hours? He has to stay stable while completing lines of a poem, the poem itself is Pale Fire and (read more about it here http://www.cinepunx.com/Writing/cells-interlinked-br2049/) gave me the impression that the replicants in 2049 are less “programmed” and more “brainwashed,” the intro seems more optimistic because it just tells you they’re allowed on earth again, but it’s still an existence where they only ever exist as product.

Anyway that brings us to Luv, Luv is the best replicant, and was clearly programmed to enjoy kicking ass. She kills a few people throughout the movie, but we see her shed a tear at two points. One is when Wallace stabs that newly birthed replicant that still can’t carry a child, the other is when she kills Joshi. These two victims have nothing in common besides being female, but Wallace’s total dismissal of the female body beyond an object he wishes to fully control so that it will regularly and only give birth on his terms seems to set something off in her. Despite all the stuff she does throughout the movie I was kind of hoping she’d live.

We see Luv’s tear at this not long after K is ordered to find and kill that naturally born replicant and is similarly taken aback. These are both characters created to kill on command, but both are troubled and hesitant during the scene where they each get orders from their boss. K because he as a Blade Runner cop, he hesitates on spiritual grounds of someone being born naturally being someone that has a soul and is therefore a real person. This annoys his boss but it also makes sense, he’s probably not designed to knowingly kill humans, only replicants. Luv is a character who seems conflicted because on some level she doesn’t want to hand over the total destiny of replicants to this guy, but at the same time is designed to be the best replicant, and so tries to carry this out as ruthlessly as possible.

With all of this the movie seemed to be about the shifting in power of gender dynamics over time, and we get four different reactions to that from four different female characters in Joshi, JOI, Luv, and Freysa through their treatment of the naturally born replicant. Joshi is terrified of an uncertain future and wants the status quo preserved at all costs by obliterating even the possibility of any change in society. JOI falls into a supporting role of whatever K wants (even after she gains more agency and self awareness), leaving it up to him, Luv realizes what’s going on but also realizes she becomes worthless the second she’s not fulfilling her purpose, and so also goes into a supporting role for Wallace, and Freysa thinks the best thing is to kill off Deckard to keep the special replicant’s location/etc. a secret so that she can withhold her until we’re at the “right time” to deal with it.

It’s pretty grim because of how much it reflects reality,* but at the end, through dealing with all four of these characters, K chooses to let this new chosen one replicant decide for herself what to do. He does what Deckard did and sacrifices everything to step aside to let this imprisoned (I believe Stelline’s syndrome was a false way to keep her secluded and also a pun on the technology term Galapagos Syndrome) woman - the only character in the movie who creates, not just via childbirth and via her art - step up on her own terms. The ending is still bittersweet, as I think a big part of the movie is that we know all of these issues exist but we have yet to really deal with them at all on a level that actually changes anything. Villeneuve says that visually in a lot of ways throughout the movie, one of my favorites is the giant nude statue in Vegas vs. the giant JOI ad seen right after they leave Vegas. Humanity and replicants have survived so much and gone through so much but that’s still where we’re at with the culture corporations and capitalism creates.

*But also because of how visually accurate it is to the book egarding how environmentally crushed the planet is and how much of its infrastructure is dead. The massive rows of housing with no electricity seen earlier in the movie are chilling.


#10

FWIW I think Luv’s big moment in this is when she kills the Lieutenant. “You think we can’t lie.”

I think in some ways, the movie is hamstrung by Truffaut’s axiom. Much like war, it’s very hard for a film to depict a brutal dystopia without it feeling like, in some way, an endorsement of it. Wallace is imo the least human person in the film and while his power protects him for the time being I can’t help but read a critique of capitalist/tech fetishisation in his obvious monstrousness. Wallace is as blind as his eyes look, and while he isn’t killed by his own creations in this film, it’s also not long coming.

I think a big idea behind the movie may actually be an attack on any one person being able to change much of anything. All we can do is look for small victories that make us feel better about ourselves. Nobody storms the castle and strikes down the evil empire. Earth is too far gone to be saved.


#11

Thanks for the perspective, I’m non-neurotypical and genuinely try to avoid a lot of online discourse, so I’m not always as current as I need to be with my terminology, don’t always phrase my thoughts the way I intended, etc. Definitely not an excuse, just an explanation. Hope you don’t mind my edits attempting to adjust to be less gross.

I definitely agree, attempting to treat inequality w/o actually treating any specifics is at best troubling, at worst actively harmful. For me it did a solid job addressing it from a detached/structural angle, but how productive it can be while also being stripped of meaningful context is something I still feel unsure about.

I think you’re totally correct in saying no commercial product intended to be sold can have genuine material consequences for the marginalized groups it believes its advocating for, but I’m also not ready to say that it is incapable of forwarding ideas that could have a positive impact long-term. Anything that, at the end of the day, is really just lining the pockets of corporate white america remains a structural problem, but if the movie industry is going to keep doing its thing, I’d rather have them at least attempt to change the cultural/conversational backdrop upon which material change takes place than blatantly embrace the status quo.

Again, sorry for the grossness, hopefully didn’t just make things worse.


#12

Hopefully this isn’t misconstrued as me discounting a greater showing off diversity, because that’s not at all what mean, but:
In a film with maybe a half dozen characters given any amount of screen time options for a non-white, non-cisgendered character were extremely limited.K, Deckard, and Dr. Ana Stelline all had to be white for the plot to make sense. Following that you have Joshi, Luv, Joi, and Wallace. Joshi makes a pass at K but we otherwise know nothing of her sexuality; she could easily be non-white, though.
Joi and Luv could be non-white, but Joi needs to be presented as a dream girl for K. Wallace could also be non-white, and it may be interesting to see a POC talking about the necessity of slavery for a civilization to bloom (which exactly what the character of Wallace does in the first scene in which you see him in the movie; in case you are reading spoilers to movie you haven’t seen and thinking I am advocating the viewpoints of a villainous fictional character), I bet as many people would find that problematic.

I do think there is a lot of room for improvement, but I also think that some of the ruminations it has on the future of humanity regarding exploitation are better without overtly tying it to a specific era of exploitation from the past. For instance, K being African American brings up the history of slavery and racial segregation when his fellow officers call him a skin job and deride him, which is fine. But in the Blade Runner universe he isn’t a second class citizen because of the color of his skin but because they literally believe he isn’t human. I guess it sounds terrible, but I wonder if focusing on the prejudices of today and the recent past would make it much more about today and the recent past rather than the ongoing, ever shifting nature of prejudices and inequality that persist even as the details change.

Using the structure of the film what adjustments do you think would have improved its representations of race and sexuality?


#13

As is generally the case with cyberpunk stuff which draw their cityscapes so heavily from China and Japan, I would like to have seen at least one Asian or Asian-American cast member.


#14

As others have mentioned, it would have been nice to have seen cyberpunk transcend its use of Asian culture for purely aesthetic reasons, but beyond that it gets more complicated. Spending a few days thinking about the backlash, part of me feels like the reduction of the representation of marginalized interests to sheer numbers/statistics is kind of crass and dehumanizing in its own way. These are useful tools for analyzing larger cultural trends, but in this case, to me, seems like not seeing the forest through the trees. And the fairly tight focus on specific characters greatly benefited the film, and as you mentioned, ties to the plot and characters of the original were an additional limitation. Within the framework they set up for themselves, I’m not sure how they could have improved all that much, but maybe that suggests modifying the framework slightly. Personally, I saw no reason that the birth had to be the product of Deckard and Rachel’s relationship. It allowed them to take advantage of audience knowledge,
and gave them a reason to bring back Harrison Ford, but broadly speaking, it could have achieved exactly the same message without being beholden to those specifics.
Ultimately though, I think it could have done a little more, but I’m glad it is what it is.


#16

I haven’t seen either of the Blade Runner Films, but I plan to watch the original one after reading this mind-blowing essay by Sarah Gailey on Blade Runner and Police Brutality: https://www.tor.com/2017/10/03/this-future-looks-familiar-watching-blade-runner-in-2017/

First off, from what I’ve read here I never got the impressions that the characters absolutely had to be white for the story to make sense. After all, people of colour can be mysoginistic, women can be queerphobic and the LGBT community can be racist. We’re also all capable marginalizing ourselves, because we can internalize bad stereotypes that effect us directly.

I want to apologize in case I come off too agitated, but I just have no patience for sci-fi that sidelines marginalized in 2017. I just can’t ignore it anymore and I shouldn’t have to.


#17

NeoRasa has some interesting analysis there.

Generally, the oversight of lack of characters of color is fairly blindingly obvious and honestly… pretty unreasonable and unjustified.

Especially given, say, the depth and degree of craft and emphasis that went into building the thematic and aesthetic emphasis on commercialized feminine sexuality; the patriarchal enslavement/coercion of eroticism (and to some degree, the power of subverting that). “‘Look on my writhing orgasmic female statues, ye mighty, and despair.” Ultimately I think the movie did a pretty interesting thing, making the male gaze so omnipresent and inescapable that it became banal and highlighted the power inequality of the male gaze in the first place.

There is… a substantial dialogue on power dynamics to be had on that side of things, especially w/r/t sex work and the resistance group, as well as what degree of autonomy/agency Joi had.


#18

I really enjoyed this essay on Blade Runner 2049, transphobia and cultural dehumanization by Caroline Petite over on Feminist Frequency: